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For Halloween, a Pair of Scares — with Yours Truly As Host

(Last Updated On: September 27, 2017)

A/perture Cinema’s ongoing “Looking @ Art Cinema” screening series takes on a darker, more fearful hue next month, with a pair of big-screen chillers most appropriate for the Halloween season.

The two-film series, “Looking at the Art of Fear,” opens Oct. 7 with Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976), followed by Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977) on Oct. 21. Audiences will see the film, enjoy coffee and pastries from Camino Bakery, and have the chance to win a DVD collection – either the “Phantasm 5 Movie DVD Series” or the first season of HBO’s award-winning horror anthology Tales from the Crypt.

The host for the event, who personally selected the films, is none other than yours truly – a two-time winner of the North Carolina Press Association award for criticism, the host of and a die-hard devotee of all things cinematic.

When I was approached by Lawren Desai, the curator of A/perture Cinema, about this, I was both flattered, intrigued and not a little challenged. I wanted to select films that were originally released on the art-house circuit, which significantly thins the field, particularly for the 1970s, when both films were released.

In many ways, the decade was a renaissance for the genre. Horror films became “respectable,” as it were – particularly once major studios started making them (think The Exorcist or The Omen, or even The Other and The Mephisto Waltz!). Many of the independent classics (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Last House on the Left) were widely seen on the drive-in/grindhouse circuit.

Both Roman Polanski and Peter Weir are acknowledged as master filmmakers, yet The Tenant and The Last Wave are among their more obscure films. Both directors have their roots in genre cinema, Polanski having made the thrillers Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and, most famously, Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Interestingly, he plays the title role in The Tenant, and the only other film he directed himself in was The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). He hasn’t directed himself since The Tenant.

Weir, whose reputation rests on such acclaimed films as Witness (1985), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1997), had earlier made the exploitation black comedy The Cars That Ate Paris (1974), which has a cult following, and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – a film I briefly considered instead of The Last Wave.

Both films are set in a recognizably contemporary environment. The Tenant takes place in Paris, where a mild-mannered clerk named Trelkovsky (Polanski) rents an apartment whose previous tenant attempted suicide. Polanski’s predilection for menace and paranoia, leavened with his trademark dark humor, is very much in evidence. Beautifully shot by Sven Nykvist and scored by Philippe Sarde, the film’s superb cast includes Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Lila Kedrova, Jo Van Fleet, Claude Dauphin, and the indomitable Shelley Winters as the Concierge.

In The Last Wave (1977), Richard Chamberlain (first-rate) plays David Burton, an Australian attorney tapped to defend a group of Aborigines accused of murder. The strange circumstances of the case, and Burton’s increasing fascination with tribal culture, coincides with an unexplained rash of natural disasters rocking the continent, which seem to portend some imminent catastrophe.

In both films, the main character’s perception of reality comes undone. Rational thought no longer applies when confronted with circumstances beyond their psychological foundation.

I could go on, but I’ll save it for the discussions!

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on © 2017, Mark Burger.


Wanna go?

The “Looking into the Art of Fear” screening of The Tenant is 9:30 am, Oct. 7; the screening of The Last Wave is 9:30 am, Oct. 21, at A/perture cinemas, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem. The Tenant is rated R, The Last Wave is rated PG. Tickets are $14.50 (general admission), $12.50 (college students with valid ID), and $11.50 (a/v society members) – which includes film, discussion, coffee and pastries from Camino Bakery, and a chance to win a special DVD collection.

For advance tickets or more information, call 336.722.8148 or visit the official A/perture website: